Corn Dogs, Blue Ribbons and the American Pastoral
Corn Dogs and Blue Ribbons is a portfolio of photographs taken at fourteen summer fairs in New England ranging in size from small 4H fairs to giant ‘expos’. Passing through the gates of my first fair as an adult, I found myself amazed at the complicated balance of startling innocence and huckster sleaze.
Everything is for sale; from whirlpool baths to cotton candy to religious salvation. All of these disparate elements seem to exist in harmony against a backdrop of gleeful screams, bells and whistles and the aroma of fried dough mixed with the pungent essence of livestock and exotic poultry. I was delighted by the open and generous sharing of information from all ages of the 4H community. The deep connection with their animals was particularly intriguing and enviable to me.
This portfolio presents my emotional and somewhat wistful visual record of this long-standing American tradition. I photographed with black and white film using basic plastic “toy” cameras because I purposely wanted to lose sharp detail and instead capture a broad stroke, the distillation of the experience. The fairs have changed so little over the last century so I felt that I wanted to capture these timeless activities, going beyond documentation – to instead illustrate the memory, the then-or-now of it.
I wonder if organizations like the Future Farmers of America and 4H continue to educate, nourish and interest tomorrow’s students in an agricultural career? Will the future of these summer fairs rely on a continuing shift away from agriculture to entertainment, concerts, rides and games of chance? And food . . . specifically fried food, French fries, fried Oreo cookies, fried cheesecake “We’ll fry anything” one sign read.